Centennial Information

Centennial is a 12-episode American television miniseries that aired on NBC from October 1978 to February 1979. It was based on the novel of the same name by James A. Michener. The miniseries was produced by John Wilder.

The miniseries follows the history of the area of the fictional town of Centennial, Colorado from the late 18th century to the 1970s. Its star-studded cast includes Michael Ansara, Raymond Burr, Richard Chamberlain, Robert Conrad, Barbara Carrera, Richard Crenna, Timothy Dalton, Sharon Gless, Andy Griffith, Mark Harmon, Gregory Harrison, David Janssen, Alex Karras, Brian Keith, Sally Kellerman, Stephen McHattie, Lois Nettleton, Donald Pleasence, Adrienne La Russa, Lynn Redgrave, Clive Revill, Robert Vaughn, Dennis Weaver, Anthony Zerbe, Stephanie Zimbalist, and numerous other well-known actors.

The miniseries was one of the longest (26½ hours including commercials) and most ambitious television projects ever attempted at the time. It had a then huge budget of US$25 million (equal to $}} today), employed four directors and five cinematographers, and featured over 100 speaking parts spanning 26 hours of television viewing time. Centennial was released on DVD on July 29, 2008.

Episode guide

Episode Original US Air Date Title Notes
01 2 October 1978 "Only the Rocks Live Forever" 3-hour opener
02 8 October 1978 "The Yellow Apron" 2-hour episode
03 28 October 1978 "The Wagon and the Elephant" 2-hour episode
04 4 November 1978 "For as Long as the Waters Flow" 2-hour episode
05 11 November 1978 "The Massacre" 2-hour episode
06 3 December 1978 "The Longhorns" 2-hour episode
07 10 December 1978 "The Shepherds" 2-hour episode
08 14 January 1979 "The Storm" 2-hour episode
09 21 January 1979 "The Crime" 2-hour episode
10 28 January 1979 "The Winds of Fortune" 2-hour episode
11 3 February 1979 "The Winds of Death" 2-hour episode
12 4 February 1979 "The Scream of Eagles" 3-hour finale


Only the Rocks Live Forever

The story begins in the mid-18th century among the Indian tribes of what is now northern Colorado. A young Arapaho boy named Lame Beaver (Michael Ansara) grows up during this period. He becomes a great warrior after a single-handed raid on the Comanche brings horses to the Arapaho for the first time, enabling them to become part of the great plains horse culture. By the end of the 18th century, Lame Beaver's band is camped along the South Platte River, and they begin to encounter white trappers for the first time.

One such trapper is Pasquinel (Robert Conrad), a French Canadian/Metis fur trader who has gone out to the Rocky Mountains to trade for beaver pelts. Pasquinel and Lame Beaver end up confronting each other in the dead of night, with knives ready. But Pasquinel puts down his blade in an act of trust, and the two become good friends. Lame Beaver comes to see great courage and honor within this white man, and so trades pelts with him for French trinkets. However, the beaver pelts that Pasquinel acquired from the Arapaho, as well as his remaining trade goods, are stolen. The theft occurs when Pasquinel is attacked and left for dead by members of the Pawnee tribe, even though he had promised their chief a gun if he were allowed to cross their lands safely. He is saved by Cheyenne warriors, and manages to track down the rogue Pawnee just as they are about to trade his pelts. The traders kill the Pawnee, but reveal themselves as nothing more than river pirates. The river pirates also steal the pelts and further wound Pasquinel.

Pasquinel manages to return to St. Louis, then part of the Spanish Empire, with an arrowhead in his spine. Without money, he is introduced by a surgeon to Herman Bockweiss (Raymond Burr), a Bavarian immigrant merchant and silversmith, and goes to him for backing. Pasquinel later marries Bockweiss's daughter Lise (Sally Kellerman), who is attracted to him even though he keeps leaving for long periods in order to trade furs in unknown territory. While Pasquinel does love Lise, his main reason for marrying her is merely to gain the goodwill of her merchant father. His financing now secured, Pasquinel once again heads west and meets up with Alexander McKeag (Richard Chamberlain), a Scottish-born trapper captured by the Pawnee. He saves the Scot's life by giving the Pawnee chief the gun that Pasquinel had previously promised him. Pasquinel also gives the chief some of Bockweiss' silver, even though some of the chief's braves had previously tried to kill Pasquinel. The Pawnee chief accepts and guarantees Pasquinel and McKeag safe travel through his lands. After McKeag's life is saved, the two become partners and lifelong friends.

On their way back to Lame Beaver's village, Pasquinel spots the same pirates who robbed him a year before. Using McKeag as bait, he lures the pirates in and fires at them with several loaded rifles while he is hidden behind a log. The friendly Pawnee aid him as well, killing the rest of the pirates in retribution for their braves' deaths. McKeag becomes angry with Pasquinel for using him as bait in order to get the 'savages' to murder and scalp the white men. But Pasquinel regards the whole affair as simply a business matter. Later on, a couple of Indians "coup" the white traders. Pasquinel tells McKeag not to attack them, and just fires over the Indians' heads to scare them off. But McKeag tries shooting them anyway, and gets stabbed by a spear. Pasquinel manages to get the wounded McKeag to Lame Beaver's village, where he recovers from his injuries. McKeag falls in love with Lame Beaver's beautiful daughter Clay Basket (Barbara Carrera), and she returns the Scotsman's love.

Pasquinel and McKeag eventually leave for St. Louis with their furs. Clay Basket wants to marry Alexander McKeag upon his return, but her father Lame Beaver says she should marry Pasquinel. This is because the Arapaho chief knows and fears that once more white men come west, the tribe's Arapaho way of life will be threatened. Therefore, Lame Beaver feels that Clay Basket needs a strong husband who will care for her and keep her safe. Back in St. Louis, Pasquinel and McKeag are confronted by the brother of one of the dead river pirates, who accuses them of killing his kin. Pasquinel feigns no involvement, but ends up getting into a bar brawl with the man. McKeag also brawls with the rest of the man's friends.

Meanwhile, Lame Beaver discovers a strange rock in a creek only he knows about. The rock is actually gold, but the Arapaho chief knows nothing of its value. He makes it into a bullet for the rifle that was given to him by Pasquinel. Pasquinel and his new bride Lise live happily in St. Louis, but the fur trader feels out of place with the aristocratic society in which she lives. The citizens of St. Louis regard the Native Americans as inferior, and hold that they must be assimilated into the white world. Pasquinel disagrees with this attitude, making him an outsider. He and McKeag eventually pack up and head back westward to Lame Beaver's village. In the meantime, Lame Beaver leads his braves against the Pawnee. He kills their chief using one of the golden bullets, but later dies fighting valiantly against the Pawnee warriors. Clay Basket is devastated when, with her widowed mother forsaken and her own fiance Pasquinel gone, the rest of the tribe ransacks their teepee. She has to live out in the cold because no male family member is around to take her in.

When Pasquinel and McKeag return to the region, they first learn about the Pawnee chief's death. One warrior shows them the bullet that killed Lame Beaver; the two traders immediately recognize the object as solid gold. They realize that the bullet means there is a local vein of gold that only Lame Beaver knew of. The two then arrive in Lame Beaver's camp, only to discover his body ceremoniously buried along the river, as well as the gruesome and frozen corpse of his wife. The two then find Clay Basket, who tells Pasquinel that she is supposed to marry him. McKeag asks if he can marry Clay Basket, since Pasquinel has Lise. Pasquinel objects however, saying that he will follow Lame Beaver's wishes and take her. McKeag knows that Pasquinel does not love Clay Basket. He senses that Pasquinel is using the marriage as an opportunity to both further his trapping career and to get at the gold, since Pasquinel believes Clay Basket knows where it is. Their partnership and friendship begin to splinter.

The Yellow Apron

Clay Basket, through her marriage of convenience with Pasquinel, gives birth to two sons, Jacques (Stephen McHattie) and Marcel (Kario Salem) Pasquinel. But their father leaves them for long periods of time, because he must live in two worlds. One with his Indian bride, and the other with Lise in St. Louis. McKeag hates the situation, but bears with it and cares for the boys like an uncle. But Jacques grows contemptuous of McKeag's presence, sensing something between McKeag and his mother.

Despite McKeag's disapproval, Pasquinel eventually takes his Indian family to St. Louis. But while at an army fort, a group of drunken soldiers confront Pasquinel. They begin to insult him and his family, calling his sons 'half-breeds' and Pasquinel himself a traitor for living with Native Americans. Pasquinel and McKeag eventually fight back, even disarming one soldier. But during the scuffle Jacques is wounded by one of the soldier's blades. The base doctor takes care of him, but a deep and painful scar is left, fueling the rage Jacques will always feels towards white men and army bases. Afterwards, Pasquinel tells McKeag to return west without him, as he is staying in St. Louis for the time being. He returns to Lise and reveals the fact that he has a second wife who is Native American. Back west in the meantime, Native Americans attack McKeag, Clay Basket, and the boys at their camp. McKeag fends them off, but Jacques is shot in the hand by a stray arrow, further scarring him. Clay Basket fears that young Jacques will be psychologically damaged and left a scarred outcast, since both worlds he comes from reject him.

Pasquinel lives happily once again with Lise; he and Lise now have a radiant young daughter, the pride of her grandfather Herman Bockweiss. Pasquinel feels once again like an outcast, especially when rumors of his Native American wife spread; there are additional rumors of other wives in New Orleans, Montreal, and Detroit. Meanwhile, McKeag teaches the Pasquinel brothers fur trapping, even though the fur trade has diminished. McKeag moreover takes the risk despite the fact that fur trapping endangers them with various tribes. Jacques begins to threaten McKeag, and rejects the fact that McKeag must be a substitute paternal figure for the Pasquinel family. Pasquinel eventually returns to his Native American family, despite the objections of Lise. One day, he confronts Jacques over a poorly laid trap, which happened because Jacques ignored McKeag's instructions. But Jacques insists he laid the trap correctly. Eventually, the argument between Jacques and McKeag escalates into Jacques pulling a knife on McKeag. Pasquinel tells his son to stop, but Jacques resumes his attack on McKeag when his father's back is turned and stabs McKeag in the gut. McKeag nearly chokes the boy to death in self-defense, but is able to stop himself. The incident is the final straw for McKeag. He can no longer take the stress of tolerating Pasquinel's double life, having to suppress his own love for Clay Basket, and having to deal with Jacques. He leaves and ends his partnership with Pasquinel, while saying that Jacques is just "twisted" and will kill them all.

McKeag begins to live as a mountain man, trapping by himself. Pasquinel continues to search for Lame Beaver's gold, and finds out that Clay Basket is pregnant with a girl. McKeag's loneliness gets the best of him, and he becomes half-mad from the isolation. He eventually becomes trapped when snow buries his rustic lodge, but he manages to dig himself out. The crazed McKeag realizes that he can't survive on his own. Some passing trappers and traders find McKeag, and tell him of a rendezvous of mountain men. There, he finds Native Americans and traders of all races and nationalities having fun and taking part in various events. He is given the "Yellow Apron," part of a dance event where one mountain man wears the apron, performs a dance in front of the gathering, and passes it on. With the help of a fellow Scotsman and a bagpipe, McKeag performs a traditional Scottish dance for the whole cheering crowd at the Rendezvous.

In the middle of the Rendezvous, McKeag reunites with Pasquinel. The two old partners happily dance and resolve their old differences. As their friendship reignites with this wild and joyous Scottish dance, Pasquinel collapses from the stress. He eventually tells McKeag that it is the old arrowhead acting up, so McKeag and other trappers undertake a dangerous operation to remove it. The operation fortunately succeeds, and McKeag gives the ever-vengeful Jacques the arrowhead. But later on, when the healing Pasquinel asks McKeag to rejoin him so that he won't be alone, McKeag refuses and leaves once again.

Some years later McKeag runs into Lise and her daughter, who is now nearly grown. McKeag eventually tells Lise the full truth about Clay Basket. He reveals to Lise that Clay Basket is the same woman McKeag had told Lise he loved, decades earlier at Lise's own wedding to Pasquinel. Lise convinces McKeag to confront Pasquinel about this fact, since it is the reason their friendship-partnership split so long ago. McKeag follows Lise's advice, and goes looking for Pasquinel to tell him of his love for Clay Basket. The brothers Marcel and Jacques have left on their own, while Pasquinel has taken Clay Basket and his newest daughter Lucinda (Cristina Raines) up into the mountains. In a valley on a small creek, the aged Pasquinel finally finds Lame Beaver's original vein of gold. He joyously plucks gold out of the water, having at last found what he has sought half his life. It is at this moment that McKeag arrives, as do Pawnee braves. The Pawnee shoot Pasquinel with multiple arrows and kill him. The heartbroken Clay Basket and McKeag can only watch, and then hold the dying Pasquinel in their arms.

McKeag vows to care for Clay Basket and Lucinda. Clay Basket then reaffirms her love for McKeag, as he does for her. McKeag adopts Lucinda as his own, and leads his new family out of the mountainous regions. The vein of gold lays lost and forgotten, its location dying with Pasquinel's last breath.

The Wagon and the Elephant

In 1845 Levi Zendt (Gregory Harrison) is the restless youngest brother in a wealthy Mennonite family from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Zendt is kissed by a local girl while delivering food to the local orphanage. When they are discovered the girl tries to save her reputation by claiming that Zendt forced himself on her and Zendt stands accused of sexual assault. He is shunned by his family and his fellow Mennonites.

Zendt decides to flee Pennsylvania for the Oregon country and purchases a Conestoga wagon. Before he leaves he goes to the local orphanage and picks up Elly Zahm (Stephanie Zimbalist), a teenage orphan who has always been smitten with Zendt. Elly had witnessed the "assault" and is one of the few people in the county who knows that Zendt is innocent. The two marry and head west.

Making their way to St. Louis overland and by steamboat, they join a wagon train heading over the Oregon trail for the Pacific guided by the unsavory mountain man Sam Purchas (Donald Pleasence). In St. Louis they meet English writer Oliver Seccombe (Timothy Dalton) and Army Captain Maxwell Mercy (Chad Everett). Seccombe is a romantic looking for adventure and writing a book trying to prove the theory that the Native American tribes descend from Welshmen. Mercy is an army negotiator sent to forge treaties with the tribes of the west. He is well-meaning but underestimates the demand Americans have for western lands and the animosity the plains tribes have for all whites. Mercy is married to Lisette, Pasquinel's daughter in St. Louis, and unsuccessfully tries to use this relationship to try to gain the Pasquinel brothers' favor.

After stopping at a frontier fort and meeting McKeag the Zendts continue into the Rocky Mountains. When the guide Sam Purchas tries to rape Elly they decide to turn back. They return to the fort defeated. McKeag offers to partner with the Zendts in a trading post near the South Platte River that had been the primary site of the Arapaho village of Lame Beaver. Elly also realizes that she has become pregnant. They agree to stay and settle but before they can reach the site Elly is bitten by a rattlesnake and dies.

Devastated by his wife's death, Zendt heads into the mountains and lives alone as a hermit in the cabin once occupied by McKeag.

For as Long as the Waters Flow

Lucinda McKeag (Cristina Raines), now a grown woman, takes pity on Zendt and goes to his cabin to nurse him back to health. The couple begins a romantic relationship and return to McKeag's trading post. Zendt marries Lucinda and takes over the trading post when McKeag dies. Hans Brumbaugh (Alex Karras), a Wolgadeutsche immigrant seeking his fortune, passes through the trading post. While panning in a stream near Zendt's trading post, he rediscovers the gold vein that Pasquinel found before he died. To defend his claim however Brumbaugh kills a fellow prospector. He becomes so distraught about the killing that he leaves the claim without taking any of the gold. Returning to Zendt's trading post, he purchases land from Clay Basket and becomes a farmer. By using irrigation, he turns marginal land into rich cropland and becomes such a success he is given the nickname of "Potatoes Brumbaugh." He will later switch to sugar beets and become wealthy.

Maxwell Mercy invites the Plains tribes to a peace conference at Fort Laramie. There he forges a treaty guaranteeing safe passage to settlers on the Oregon Trail in exchange for legal recognition of tribal land claims. Wiser heads on both sides however know that the treaty will merely delay the inevitable war between the two sides.

The Massacre

By the 1860s, the Civil War has broken out in the east and the Army sends most of its troops back east to fight in the war. The Indian tribes take advantage of the lack of a strong military presence in the territory to redress past grievances and raid white settlements. The tribes are led by the Pasquinel brothers. A recent Colorado settler named Frank Skimmerhorn (Richard Crenna) forms a volunteer militia to deal with the tribes. Skimmerhorn, a survivor of tribal wars in Minnesota, is a charismatic but mentally unbalanced leader who has a pathological hatred of all native Americans. He leads an attack on a band of peaceful unarmed Arapaho ordering the slaughter of everyone in the camp including women and children. Captain John McIntosh (Mark Harmon), a young officer under Skimmerhorn's command, refuses to join in the massacre and is court martialed for insubordination. At the trial, graphic testimony from a young soldier turns public opinion against Skimmerhorn. However, by manipulating the facts, Skimmerhorn is able to regain favor with the people, culminating with his capture and summary execution of Jake Pasquinel. Seeing no hope, Mike Pasquinel is convinced by the Zendts to surrender to the Regular Army in Denver where, in theory at least, he will receive a fair trial. As they are marching to the Army's command headquarters waving white flags Skimmerhorn (who is giving an interview to a local newspaper editor) shoots Mike in the back killing him in cold blood. Public opinion is then firmly turned against Skimmerhorn. Maxwell Mercy, outraged at his brothers-in law's murders, challenges Skimmerhorn to a duel and nearly kills him only to be stopped by Levi Zendt. Disgraced and rejected by his son John, Skimmerhorn leaves Colorado.

The Longhorns

Oliver Seccombe returns to the area as an agent of several wealthy British investors led by Earl Venneford of Wye who want to start a cattle ranch. By claiming watering holes under the Homestead Act and utilizing the open range, they can monopolize thousands of square miles with a very small investment. The ranch would eventually control nearly , an area nearly the size of Vermont.

He hires John Skimmerhorn (Cliff De Young), son of the disgraced militia colonel, to acquire longhorn cattle in Texas and drive them to Colorado. For the cattle drive, the young Skimmerhorn hires several cowboys, including the experienced trail boss R.J. Poteet, played by Dennis Weaver, and young cow hand Jim Lloyd (played by Michael LeClair as a teen during this episode and by William Atherton as the older Lloyd). At first Skimmerhorn encounters resistance because of his father's actions with the Indians, but he distances himself from his father's shadow and quickly earns the respect of the cowhands. The epic cattle drive across the tractless Llano Estacado is successful and the new ranch, named Venneford, becomes one of the largest ranches in the west. In 1876, Colorado becomes a state and the small community that has grown up around Zendt's trading post is renamed "Centennial" in honor of the American centennial.

The Shepherds

Seccombe stays on to manage the ranch and with John Skimmerhorn as foreman and Jim Lloyd as a regular ranch hand. Lloyd falls in love with Levi Zendt's beautiful but wild daughter Clemma (Adrienne Larussa). Clemma however merely toys with Jim. Charlotte Buckland (Lynn Redgrave), the daughter of one of Venneford's wealthy British investors, comes to Colorado to find adventure. Clemma leaves town leaving Jim heartbroken. Charlotte falls in love with Seccombe and the two are married.

A range war develops between the cattle ranchers led by Seccombe, farmers led by Hans Brumbaugh, and sheep herders led by new settler Messmore Garrett (Clint Ritchie). New town sheriff Axel Dumire (Brian Keith) tries to settle the conflict peacefully but it soon escalates into violence. Oliver Seccombe, angered by threats to his interests, engages the services of a gang of outlaws to kill Brumbaugh, Garrett and other leaders of the farmers and shepherds. Jim Lloyd and John Skimmerhorn find themselves caught between sides in the war. They are cowboys but are also sympathetic to the plight of the farmers and shepherds and refuse to believe that Seccombe is behind the cold blooded killings. Brumbaugh and Garrett both survive assassination attempts but several farmers and shepherds are killed in the violence. Eventually the outlaws are ambushed by a group of vigilantes led by Brumbaugh and Jim Lloyd. The sheriff is able to restore order but several gang members escape vowing vengeance.

The Storm

Seccombe proves to be a poor businessman with questionable morals and the finances of the ranch are eventually called into question by the Venneford's British investors. They dispatch Finlay Perkin (Clive Revill), a dour Scottish accountant, to audit Venneford's books. Seccombe has been secretly selling off ranch cattle to fund his activities. Perkin soon realizes that Seccombe is skimming money after seeing the combination of thousands of missing cattle and Seccombe's palatial new ranch house, evidence of his profligate spending. Seccombe's crimes are covered over however when a terrible blizzard hits the region, killing many of the ranch's cattle and thereby hiding the losses incurred by Seccombe's embezzlement. The blizzard saves him from formal legal charges; however he is still compelled to resign in disgrace and turn over ranch operations to John Skimmerhorn. The fraud accusations and the large loss of cattle combine to take a toll on Seccombe's health and he commits suicide leaving Charlotte a widow. Levi Zendt dies in an accident leaving Lucinda and their two grown children Clemma and Martin.

The Crime

Mervin Wendell (Anthony Zerbe), his wife Maude (Lois Nettleton), and young son Philip (Doug McKeon) come to town. The Wendells are ostensibly itinerant actors but in reality they are charlatans and con-artists working their way across the new railroad towns one step ahead of the law. Their favorite con is called the "badger game". The con works on the local pastor and the Wendells reap large blackmail proceeds. Their plan turns sour when they try it on a worldwise businessman, Soren Sorenson (Sandy McPeak). He recognizes their trick, too late, and threatens to expose them. Wendell attacks him. They struggle and Sorenson is killed by Maude Wendell. While looking through his belongings, they find a large fortune in cash that Sorenson was going to use to finance a real estate purchase. Philip hides the body in a subterranean cave along the riverbank. They keep the money but realize that they cannot spend it as it will expose their guilt.

The Winds of Fortune

The widowed Charlotte Buckland Seccombe travels to England briefly but returns to Venneford after inheriting a majority interest in the ranch. She falls in love with Jim Lloyd, now ranch foreman, but their romance nearly falls apart when Clemma Zendt returns and Jim breaks off his engagement with Charlotte. Charlotte resolves to fight for Jim and goes to Clemma and blackmails her into leaving town"?or she will use all her resources to expose Clemma's activities during her time away, which include alcoholism, prostitution, fraud, and a lengthy prison term. Clemma gets on the next train to Chicago, and Jim and Charlotte reconcile and wed.

Sheriff Dumire has suspected the Wendells of shady activities since their arrival and questions them about the missing businessman. He hounds the Wendells but they won't crack and without a body the sheriff can do nothing. The Wendells' young son Philip admires the sheriff and has no respect for his father. He wants to tell him the truth but cannot bring himself to betray his own flesh and blood. The sheriff is killed by remnants of the gang hired to drive the farmers out in the range war, and Philip begins to reveal the secret only as Dumire dies. With the sheriff now out of the picture, Mervin and Maude Wendell are now free from legal suspicion. He charms a railroad land agent and begins planting the seeds of a future real estate empire.

The Winds of Death

By the turn of the 20th century, Mervin Wendell has grown rich selling marginal land to naive immigrants and easterners for dryland farming, lending on the land at extortion rates then foreclosing and reselling the land at a profit. Though the secret of his family's success still haunts Philip, he continues the family real estate business often mercilessly foreclosing on unsuccessful farmers. Among those are young Iowans Earl and Alice Grebe. Despite warnings from Hans Brumbaugh and Jim Lloyd, the Grebes settle on the drylands of the prairie and take out a mortgage with Mervin Wendell. This gamble on marginal land soon turns disastrous as the Dust Bowl years of the 1920s and 1930s and a freefall in wheat prices after World War I set in. The Grebes fall behind in their mortgage and Wendell threatens foreclosure. Dust storms kill the Grebe's son causing an emotionally distraught Alice to go insane and stab several of her remaining children to death. Enraged, Earl kills Alice then kills himself.

The shrinking of the prairie and the closing of the open range leave Venneford Ranch a shadow of its former glory. Still, the ranch is large and successful and Charlotte uses her wealth and clout to defend Hispanic victims of local bigotry. Beeley Garrett, Messmore's son, marries Jim and Charlotte Lloyd's daughter and takes over control of the Venneford when Jim dies.

The Scream of Eagles

By the 1970s, the two leading citizens in town are Paul Garrett (David Janssen), the current owner of Venneford Ranch, and Morgan Wendell (Robert Vaughn). Both men are in their 50s, but any similarity ends there. Garrett is thoughtful, introspective, and interested in preserving the natural beauty of Colorado for future generations. He is Beeley Garrett's son as well as Charlotte and Jim Lloyd's grandson. He is also a descendant of the Garretts, Levi Zendt, Pasquinel, and Lame Beaver. Wendell is Philip's son who has inherited the family real estate empire as well as their propensity for self-interest. He is a naked opportunist looking to advance his own personal and financial interests at any cost.

Professor Lew Vernor (Andy Griffith) and writer Sidney Enderman (Sharon Gless) arrive in town to do research on the history of Centennial. Vernor goes to Paul Garrett to learn the history of the region. Later while exploring the town Vernor discovers a washed-out cave with human remains on the Wendell's property. Morgan, recognizing the scene from his father's tales, orders Vernor out and hides the evidence of the century-old murder that made his family wealthy.

Wendell is a candidate for the new statewide office of Commissioner of Resources, an elected office that will balance economic growth with environmental and historical preservation. Wendell is running on a platform that emphasizes economic growth. Paul Garrett and other civic leaders hope for a more balanced approach that preserves the traditional Colorado way of life. While telling Vernor and Enderman the history of Centennial (Garrett's voice narrates the miniseries), he is persuaded to run against Wendell in the election.

During the election, Wendell runs a dirty campaign and smears Garrett by any means possible. He plays the race card, pointing out the widower Garrett plans to marry a young Hispanic woman. In the end, Garrett appears to win the election, though the final outcome is never actually revealed.

Location and filming

The novel places the town at the junction of the South Platte River and the Cache la Poudre River which would place it roughly halfway between the Colorado towns of Greeley and Kersey. This is consistent with Michener's description of the town's location; however no real town exists in this area. This location would place the spot of the fictional town in central Weld County on the High Plains about east of the base of the Rockies. Author James A. Michener lived in Greeley during the late 1930s and was familiar with the area. Michener used a variety of source material for his fictional town taken from various areas in eastern Colorado and Centennial is not meant to represent a single settlement. There is a city called Centennial, Colorado, but it did not exist until 2001 and its location and history are not at all similar in any way to the town described in either the book or miniseries.

Principal filming occurred in 1978. There were numerous filming locations in several parts of the United States. Colorado filming locations included Greeley , the Pawnee National Grasslands, Denver, Central City, Orchard, Bent's Old Fort National Monument and the Rocky Mountain National Park. Several of the mountain men era scenes were filmed in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The scenes representing St. Louis in the late 18th and early 19th century were filmed in Bracken County, Kentucky. The White Hall State Historic Site in Richmond, Kentucky served as the Bockweiss mansion. Scenes representing the Zendt farm and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania were filmed in Ohio.

The ranch house and surrounding buildings used for the Venneford Ranch house was the Highlands Ranch Mansion (pictured) in Highlands Ranch, which ironically is located near the real town of Centennial, Colorado. Years later the surrounding property was developed for housing; one of the streets in the development was named Venneford Ranch Road (by The Mission Viejo Company).

Critical reception

Nominated for several awards, including a Best Actor Golden Globe for Chamberlain and Best Television Series Golden Globe Drama in 1979.

Historical basis

The Pasquinel character bears similarities to Jacques LaRamee a French-Canadian pioneer fur trapper who explored the area of the North Platte River in southern Wyoming in the early 19th century. (Interestingly, in the episode the Yellow Apron, Pasquinel tells his son Jake that he was named after Jacques LaRamee.) The character of Colonel Frank Skimmerhorn appears to be loosely based on John Chivington who led the infamous Sand Creek massacre in Colorado in 1864. Captain John McIntosh's role in the incident and subsequent trial appears to be loosely based on Silas Soule. The range war depicted in series is similar in many respects to the 1892 Johnson County War in Wyoming. The scene where Nate Pearson, Bufe Coker, and Fat Laura are murdered by the cattlemen's hired killers[the Petis brothers] bears similarities to the lynching of Ellen "Cattle Kate" Watson with the Oliver Secombe character taking a role similar to that of Albert John Bothwell. The character of Hans "Potato" Brumbaugh appears to be loosely based on the Colorado historical figure Rufus "Potato" Clark, a failed gold prospector who turned to agriculture and became a pioneer in irrigation. He grew wealthy by growing potatoes near Littleton eventually switching to sugar beets and controlling more than .

Differences between the book and miniseries

Although Michener began his novel in prehistory, the series itself begins with elements from Chapter 4 of the book which is entitled The Many Coups of Lame Beaver. The novel devotes an entire section to Kurt Brumbaugh's development of Central Beet company however the miniseries makes only passing reference to it. The Wendell's use the badger game to blackmail the town pastor out of his house in the miniseries but in the book they get the house from a local businessman. In the miniseries, Morgan Wendell tried to cover-up his family's shady history, but in the book he spoke openly about the murder and his father's admiration of the sheriff. Paul Garrett is in his 50s and is Jim and Charlotte Lloyd's grandson in the miniseries but he in his early 40s in the novel and is Jim and Charlotte's great grandson. The miniseries skips a generation for the sake of simplicity. This skipped generation would have revealed that Paul Garrett is also a descendant of Maxwell & Lisette Mercy, Levi & Lucinda Zendt and John Skimmerhorn.

There is no election pitting Paul Garrett against Morgan Wendell in the novel. Wendell is elected Commissioner of Resources and Garrett reluctantly accepts his offer to be his principal deputy. The novel also portrays Morgan Wendell as a more reasonable and balanced man than what is depicted in the miniseries. It is he not Paul Garrett who makes the reference to Warren G. Harding as the anti-standard by which all politicians should be judged.


Principal cast


  • Michael Ansara " Lame Beaver
  • William Atherton " Jim Lloyd
  • Raymond Burr " Herman Bockweiss
  • Barbara Carrera " Clay Basket
  • Richard Chamberlain " Alexander McKeag
  • Robert Conrad " Pasquinel
  • Richard Crenna " Col. Frank Skimmerhorn
  • Timothy Dalton " Oliver Seccombe
  • Cliff De Young " John Skimmerhorn
  • Chad Everett " Major Maxwell Mercy
  • Sharon Gless " Sidney Endermann
  • Andy Griffith " Prof. Lewis Vernor
  • Merle Haggard " Cisco Calendar
  • Mark Harmon " Captain John McIntosh
  • Gregory Harrison " Levi Zendt
  • David Janssen " Paul Garrett (Narrator)
  • Alex Karras " Hans Brumbaugh
  • Brian Keith " Sheriff Axel Dumire
  • Sally Kellerman " Lise Bockweiss Pasquinel
  • A. Martinez " Tranquilino Marquez
  • Stephen McHattie " Jacques Pasquinel
  • Lois Nettleton " Maude Wendell
  • Donald Pleasence " Sam Purchas
  • Cristina Raines " Lucinda McKeag Zendt
  • Lynn Redgrave " Charlotte Buckland Seccombe Lloyd
  • Clive Revill " Finlay Perkin
  • Kario Salem " Marcel Pasquinel
  • Clint Walker " Joe Bean
  • Dennis Weaver " R. J. Poteet
  • Robert Vaughn " Morgan Wendell
  • Anthony Zerbe " Mervin Wendell
  • Stephanie Zimbalist " Elly Zahm Zendt

Other cast

  • Maria Yolanda Aguayo " Blue Leaf (child)
  • Steven Andrade " 1st Arapaho
  • Phyllis Applegate " Clerk
  • Royce D. Applegate " Mr. Holmes
  • Ed Bakey " Floyd Calendar
  • James Best " Hank Garvey
  • William Bogert " William Bellamy
  • Lynn Borden " Vesta Volkema
  • Marta Brennan " Mary Sibley
  • Reb Brown " Jim Bridger
  • Bo Brundin " Magnes Volkema
  • Steve Burns " Pvt. James Clark
  • Barry Cahill " Maj. O'Neil
  • Alan Caillou " Booth Cilbborn
  • Rafael Campos " Nacho Gomez
  • Joan Carey " Miss Kruger
  • Dave Cass " Frank Pettis
  • Karen Carlson " Lisette Mercy
  • Annette Charles " Senor Alvarez
  • Alex Colon " Father Vigil
  • Henry Darrow" Alvarez
  • Ralph Davies Lewis " Tom Ragland
  • Bob Davis " Bank Manager
  • Joella Deffenbaugh " Fat Laura
  • Dennis Dimster " Timmy Grebe
  • Robert DoQui " Nate Person III
  • Burt Douglas " Capt. William Ketchum
  • Damon Douglas " William Savage
  • Robert Douglas " Claude Richards
  • Robert Easton " Maj. George Sibley
  • Dana Elcar " Judge Hart
  • René Enríquez " Manolo Marquez
  • H.P. Evetts " Orvid Pettis
  • Darrell Fetty " Burns
  • Dennis Fimple " Buck
  • Carl Franklin " Jim Beckworth
  • Lou Frizzell " Mr. Norriss
  • Chief Dan George " Old Sioux
  • Byron Gilbert " Truinfador Marquez
  • Silvana Gallardo " Serafina Marquez
  • Michael Goodrow " Ethan Grebe
  • Lani Grant " Mrs. Takemoto
  • Jacques Hampton " Doctor
  • James Hampton " Defense Atty. Prescott
  • Alex Henteloff " Bradley Finch
  • Allan Hunt " Stanford
  • Gordon Hurst " Clay
  • Scott Hylands " Laseter
  • Richard Jaeckel " Sgt. Lykes
  • Claude Jarman, Jr. " Earl Grebe
  • Claude Earl Jones " Matt
  • Morris Jones " 1st Reporter
  • John Kings " Englishman
  • James Kisicki " Rev. Fenstermacher
  • Eric Lalich " Jake Calendar
  • David and Daniel Lange " Ben Dawson (age 9)
  • Les Lannom " Buford Coker
  • William Lanteau " Flagg
  • Adrienne La Russa " Clemma Zendt
  • Tony LaTorre " Marcel (age 7)
  • Michael Le Clair " Jim Lloyd (young)
  • Geoffrey Lewis " Sheriff Bogardus
  • Duane Loken " 1st Cheyenne
  • Christopher Lowell " Keefe
  • Jaimie MacDonald " Jacques (ages 6"9)
  • Jay W. MacIntosh " Emma Lloyd
  • Joaquin Martinez " Col. Salcedo
  • Barney McFadden " Abel Tanner
  • Doug McKeon " Philip Wendell (as a boy)
  • Gloria McMillan " Clara Brumbaugh
  • Jim McMullan " Prosecutor
  • Sandy McPeak " Soren Sorenson
  • Mari Michener " Janice Welch
  • Julio Medina " Father Gravez
  • Art Metrano " Maurice Cartwright
  • Greg Mullavey " Mule Canby
  • Karmin Murcelo " Flor Marquez
  • Alan Napier " Lord Venneford
  • Ivan Naranjo " Gray Wolf
  • Mark Neely " Martin Zendt
  • Richard O'Brien " Judge
  • Rachel Orr " Victoria Grebe
  • Michael K. Osborn " Mr. Kellen
  • Gene Otis " Stringer
  • Morgan Paull " Philip Wendell (adult)
  • John Bennett Perry " Maylon Zendt
  • Robert Phalen " Rev. Holly
  • Terry Phillips " Newscaster
  • Maria Potts " Blue Leaf
  • Monika Ramirez " Blue Leaf (age 14)
  • Nick Ramus " Lost Eagle
  • Steven Rapp " Kurt Brumbaugh
  • Debi Richter " Rebecca Stolfitz
  • Clint Ritchie " Messmore Garrett
  • Jorge Rivero " Broken Thumb
  • Pernell Roberts " Gen. Asher
  • Vincent Roberts " Jacques Pasquinel
  • Frank S. Salsedo " Sam Lopez
  • Steve Sandor " Charley Kin
  • Eric Server " Pierce
  • Steve Shaw " Paul Garrett (as a boy)
  • Steve Shemayne " Pawnee Chief
  • Stuart Silbar " Col. Hanley
  • James J. Sloyan " Spade Larkin
  • Robert Somers " Sergeant
  • Julie Sommars " Alice Grebe
  • Gale Sondergaard " Aunt Augusta
  • Gordon Steel " Donald McPherson
  • Sterling Swanson " Hunter
  • Takashi " Mr. Takemoto
  • Irene Tedrow " Mother Zendt
  • Robert Tessier " Rude Water
  • Marshall Thompson " Dennis
  • Tiger Thompson " Young Beeley Garrett
  • Bill Thurman " Uncle Dick
  • Ray Tracey " Lame Beaver (young)
  • Deborah Trissell " Miss Keller (credited in Episode #9, in which she can't be seen)
  • Glynn Turman " Nate Person
  • Mina Vasquez " Soledad Marquez
  • Alan Vint " Beeley Garrett (adult)
  • Jesse Vint " Amos Calendar
  • Robert Walden " Dr. Richard Butler
  • Robby Weaver " Gompert
  • Van Williams " George
  • Leslie Winston " Laura Lou Booker
  • Morgan Woodward " Gen. Wade
  • David Yanez " Lame Beaver (age 9)
  • Ken Yellow Moon " 2nd Arapaho
  • George Clooney " an extra in the Indian village scene (his TV debut)



  • Harry Falk
  • Paul Krasny
  • Bernard McEveety
  • Virgil W. Vogel


  • Alex Beaton " Producer
  • George E. Crosby " Producer
  • Howard Alston " Producer
  • Malcolm R. Harding " Producer
  • Richard Caffey " Producer
Other Crew
  • Charles Larson " Screenwriter
  • Jerry Ziegman " Screenwriter
  • John Wilder " Screenwriter & Executive Producer
  • John Addison " Composer (Music Score)
  • Charles W. Short " Cinematographer
  • Duke Callaghan " Cinematographer
  • Jacques Marquette " Cinematographer
  • Ronald W. Browne " Cinematographer
  • John P. Bruce " Art Director
  • John W. Corso " Art Director
  • Lloyd S. Papez " Art Director
  • Louis Montejano " Art Director
  • Mark Mansbridge " Art Director
  • Seymour Klate " Art Director
  • Sherman Loudermilk " Art Director
  • James Michener " Author
  • Helen Colvig " Costume Designer
  • Bill Parker " Editor
  • Howard S. Deane " Editor
  • John Elias " Editor
  • Ralph Schoenfeld " Editor
  • Robert F. Shugrue " Editor
  • Robert Watts " Editor
  • Jack Senter " Production Designer

Awards and nominations

Year Award Result Category Recipient
1979 Chicago International Film Festival Winner Network Television Production: Television Series John Wilder
1979 Emmy Awards Nominated Outstanding Film Editing for a Limited Series or a Special Robert Watts (For chapter one: "Only the Rocks Live Forever")
Outstanding Art Direction for a Limited Series or a Special John W. Corso (art director), John M. Dwyer (set decorator), Robert George Freer (set decorator), Sherman Loudermilk (art director), Jack Senter (production designer), Joseph J. Stone (set decorator) (For chapter seven: "The Shepherds")
1979 Western Heritage Awards Won Fictional Television Drama John Wilder
1979 Writers Guild of America Award Won Multi-Part Long Form Series and/or Any Production of More Than Two Parts John Wilder (For chapter one: "Only the Rocks Live Forever")
1980 Golden Globe Award Nominated Best TV-Series " Drama
Best TV Actor " Drama Richard Chamberlain


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